My last week in Europe, I had planned another busy week with lots of traveling. The highlight of the week was five days in Paris with Mom. At the end of my year in Germany, Mom and I went to Paris, and we decided to go back for a more laid-back trip this time around. On the Saturday after school ended, I made my way to Paris with a 60 pound suitcase and a 20 pound backpack to meet Mom, who flew into Charles De Gaulle earlier that morning. Our first hotel gave us a sixth floor room with a gorgeous view of the city, including a view of the Eiffel Tower!
We had a good laugh when we took off our coats in the room and realized we had both worn the same outfit!
Since the hotel was in the Latin Quarter, we were a short walk away from Isle de la Cité, where we caught the trip’s first glimpse of Notre Dame. We walked around inside and admired the crèche. From there, we walked back to Îsle Saint-Louis and did some shopping. I love all the quirky shops and lovely cafés, and I can see why all the ritziest apartments are here. We were both really tired and not up for dinner at a restaurant, so we opted for hot chocolate, coffee, and a mille feuilles (Napoleon pastry) for dinner.
After dinner as we walked back across the river, we crossed the Pont de l’Archevêché (Archbishop’s Bridge) and saw the hundreds of love padlocks attached to it. Love padlocks are locked to famous bridges across Europe to symbolize a couple’s eternal love. The couple locks the padlock and then tosses the key into the river.
Looking back across the river, we caught another fantastic view of Notre Dame. I remember the first time we saw Notre Dame, thinking, “This is it?” From the front, it’s not that impressive. It’s not until you see the buttresses around the back that you really understand why Notre Dame is so famous.
Both exhausted, we ended up sleeping for 10 hours and got a late start to the day the next morning. However, we started the day off right by splitting a religieuse for breakfast. I had been admiring religieuses in bakeries for weeks but had never tried one, and what a mistake that was! They are fantastic and my favorite French food! A religieuse is made from choux pastry, filled with custard, and topped with icing. Religieuse means nun, and the pastry was named for it’s resemblance to a nun’s habit.
After breakfast, we did some meandering up the Rue Mouffetard, famous for its cheese and wine shops and restaurants. We stumbled across the Église Saint Étienne, which is a beautiful, airy church.
Just up the street we saw the Panthéon, originally built as a church and later used to bury France’s great heroes. The inscription at the top reads “Aux Grand Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante,” or “To the Great Men, the Grateful Homeland.” Many famous Frenchmen including Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola, Dumas, and the Curies are buried here.
I couldn’t seem to take enough pictures of Notre Dame! We met my friend Andrew, who was also in Paris for the week, to do some sightseeing together. We decided to meet in the plaza outside Notre Dame, thinking it wouldn’t be too hard to find Andrew among the crowd. Boy, were we wrong! Apparently every single person in Paris wears a black jacket, black hat, black scarf, and black gloves in the winter. Everyone blends together into one big black and gray mass.
Sunday graced us with our only day of clear blue skies! It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, but really cold! The wind whipped through the streets, making it feel much colder.
To make the most of the great weather, we decided to walk through the Tuilleries, the gardens behind the Louvre. The last time Mom and I walked here, it was 90 degrees- we’ve now seen Paris at two weather extremes!
After thawing out over a coffee, our little group hopped on the metro to the Eiffel Tower . It was originally built for the 1889 World Fair. At the base, there was a Christmas market, so we walked through and drank some hot, spiced wine.
I can’t believe that at one time it was considered an eyesore, and Parisians seriously considered tearing it down!
The observation towers offer beautiful views all across the city. It is not to be missed! At this point, it was still freezing cold but now drizzling, but despite all this, it was still a great part of the trip!
Mom and I have always wanted to see the chateaux of the Loire Valley, so we decided to take some time this trip to detour down to see them. Rick Steves recommended going to Amboise, a small town two hours outside of Paris by train.
Riding the train was nice and relaxing and showed us some pretty parts of the northern countryside. Amboise itself is tiny but very cute. The main shopping street was decorated with lights for Christmas, and we spent the afternoon wandering about and getting a feel for the town.
We stopped by the famous Bigot Chocolatier for an afternoon coffee. I opted for a café gourmand, which is an espresso with small tastes of a variety of pastries, and mom chose a coffee and a macaron.
A French macaron is not to be confused with an American macaroon. A macaron is made of two meringue-like cookies with a jam or cream in the middle. They are light, delicate, and divine! We had a salted caramel macaron, and it was delicious!
After our coffee and pastry-filled afternoon, we chose to have a quiet evening in the hotel with a baguette, cheese, olives, and wine for dinner. So stereotypically French! Not wanting to waste a bite, we managed to eat the entire thing!
The next morning after our typical breakfast of more pastries, we caught a bus from Amboise out to Chenonceaux, another sleepy town and home to the Chateau de Chenonceau.
Chenonceau was given by King Henry II to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. When Henry died, his wife Catherine de Medici expelled Diane and made the castle her own. The grounds feature meticulously planned gardens on either side of the castle.
The Pont de Diane extends out into the Cher River and features long, black and white tiled ballrooms inside. Diane de Poitier originally intended to build a matching chateau on the other side of the bank, but she was unable to complete her project.
During World War Two, the Cher River marked the boundary between occupied and free France. Because of its strategic location, the chateau was transformed into hospital and was used as a means of escape into free France.
Back in Amboise, we admired the Chateau d’Amboise, which sits at the top of the hill overlooking the city. After a morning full of looking at tapestries and old beds, we decided to skip going inside the chateau and settled for walking around town and admiring the chateau from outside instead. We found a bunch of stairs going up the hill, so we were adventurous, tapped into our “inner Rick Steves,” and climbed to the observation point at the top. That evening, we took the train back to Paris and stayed in a second hotel, this time just off of Mouffetard.
The next day, we walked over to the former site of the Bastille, which unfortunately doesn’t have anything left except a monument to the Revolution of 1830. We walked from there to the Place des Vosges, a square lined with row houses where Victor Hugo lived for a time. It would be a great place for a picnic in the summer.
We also saw the Centre Beauville or Centre Pompidou, which houses a modern art museum. It’s quite a sight sandwiched between standard French architecture on either side.
Modern art isn’t really our thing, so we skipped going inside. Honestly, I think the building is a bit of an eyesore.
We braved the holiday crowds to visit the Galeries Lafayette, the most famous shopping center in Paris. It was a madhouse, swarming with mobs of black coats. Like 5th Avenue in New York, the building is decked in lights and the main windows feature elaborate window displays.
Unlike 5th Avenue, where people make a nice orderly queue to file past the windows, people swarmed forward and crowded around the windows. You really had to fight your way forward to get a good view.
The Galeries include three buildings, each several stories tall. The main building has a large central dome, which this time of year is also decorated for the holidays. Even without the Christmas tree, the building would be beautiful.
A trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Arc de Triomphe. I will never, ever drive in Paris! Just watching the traffic at the Étoile Charles de Gaulle made me nervous! There are no lanes whatsoever, and the cars fight and honk their way around the Arc. They are constantly cutting in and out, even driving perpendicular to traffic in order to get to an exit.
Walking back towards the center of town, we admired the lights along the Champs-Élysées. Normally the trees are decorated with white lights, but for the holidays they had more colorful lights. Also along the street a Christmas market was set up.
We made one last stop for the day back at the Louvre to see the Pyramid lit up at night. Another contentious site in Paris, many French people were opposed to building the Pyramid because it was not French enough.
We decided to be a bit daring on our last day in Paris and visited the catacombs. In the late 18th century, Paris’s cemeteries were overflowing and unsanitary, so the city decided to remove the bodies to a series of catacombs. Miles of tunnels snake their way under the city and contain the remains of over 6 million bodies, staked into neat piles.
It was pretty creepy in the catacombs. From the path where you walk, the bones can extend for 80 feet back into the tunnels. Occasionally water drips from the ceilings, adding to the creepiness. Mom commented that it would make for quite the 5k race if anyone ever organized one!
We also visited the gardens of the Rodin Museum. The gardens house some of his most famous works including The Thinker, The Burghers of Calais, and The Gates of Hell. It’s only one euro to get into the gardens, which is much less than the entire museum, and the gardens were enough to give us a taste of Rodin’s work.
You can also see the Hôtel national des Invalides and the Eiffel Tower from the gardens. I still get excited whenever I see the Eiffel Tower rising above the rest of the city.
Making our way back across the city, we passed les Deux Magots on Boulevard Saint Germain. Les Deux Magots is famous as the popular hangout spot for famous artists like Picasso and Hemingway.
It was quite the trip and lots of fun! I’m so glad Mom got to come over a second time. The first time we were there, we crammed all the major tourist sites in and were constantly go, go, go. This time around it was nice to take it slower, sleep in a bit, revisit some of the rushed places from the first time around, and fit in some new sites. Paris is still at the top of my list of favorite cities in the world!
The remaining part of my trip was spent back in Germany. From Paris I took the train to Franfurt to visit the Kesslers for Christmas. It was a nice, relaxing way to end the trip. Christmas was full of lots of cakes, cookies and raclette. Fortunately I got to skip the cow tongue for Christmas dinner! And what holiday wouldn’t be complete without a tractor show in the hail on the top of the mountain?
For now, my traveling adventures are over. It was a great semester, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity. One more semester to go before hopefully the next adventure begins!